Hauschka is the alias for German composer Volker Bertelmann and he’s made a career out of jamming all sorts of things into his piano. He’s wedged pieces of leather, felt or rubber between the piano strings, wrapped aluminium foil around the hammers, placed small objects on the strings, or joined them together with guitar strings or adhesive tape. The technique is called the prepared piano, and Hauschka is not the first to have come up with the idea. However, on his paradoxically haunting and joyful new album Abandoned City – most of the song titles are named after real-life ghost towns – the effect is startling.
The album is an amalgamation of electronica-y dance material mixed in with a bit of classical stylings. I first heard this record after seeing the recent Spike Jonze film Her, and the album was almost a continuation of that soundtrack, deeply meditative and affecting and melancholic, but with a hint of hopefulness to the proceedings. And despite the artist’s penchant for fussing around with his musical instrument of choice, the effect is not quite as jarring as you would think. Abandoned City is a fairly straight-forward LP, with a lot of the gussing about pushed into the background, or to a point where you might not readily notice it unless you’re paying apt attention, with songcraft rising to the fore.